I want to talk about college basketball today and I want to tell you how I got to the point of focusing on that topic. Last weekend, Eastern Michigan beat Northern Illinois by a score of 42-25. Scoring is down in college basketball again this year but that score looked like the score of a high school girls’ game. Then I read that Northern Illinois trailed at the half by a score of 18-4; indeed, they scored 4 points in 20 minutes of basketball. I figured they must have been trying to pay tribute to Dr. James Naismith and were keeping the score down to honor his memory. I could not imagine any other basis for scoring 4 points in a half of a college basketball game.
I went to the Northern Illinois University website to see if perhaps half of the team had come down with a stomach flu and they had to play two equipment managers just to have the minimum number of players dressed for the game. Not so. However, when I did go there, I discovered that someone who writes press releases at Northern Illinois will at some point in the future be a Press Secretary for a future US President. Here is what that person had to say about losing a game 42-25:
“Northern Illinois posted its best defensive effort in seven seasons allowing just 42 points on Saturday afternoon, but it came in a losing effort as the Huskies fell to Eastern Michigan, 42-25, at the EMU Convocation Center.
“ ‘Our guys played hard,’ said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. ‘Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make a shot. We just needed someone to make a basket to get our team going, but I wouldn’t say that we were taking bad shots. We had makeable, open shots, they just wouldn’t go in, but our guys kept defending, kept playing hard.’ “
By this time in a normal college basketball season, the weekly rankings make a bit of sense. Obviously, there are teams that start the season quickly, garner some reputation and get to late January a bit over-rated and there are always a couple of late bloomers too. However, this year, it would seem that the weekly rankings are not much more than a shuffling of cards followed by a random deal. Consider some of the things that have happened recently:
Villanova (unranked with a 13-7 record as of this morning) beat #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse in a 4-day span.
Louisville (formerly the #1 team in the country) lost three games in a row in a week.
Minnesota (ranked 12th in the country with a 16-5 record) lost four games in a row over a two-week period.
Kansas State (ranked 10th in the country with a 15-4 record) lost two games in a row last week.
VCU (ranked 18th in the country with a 16-5 record) lost two in a row – to Richmond and then to La Salle – in a 48-hour period.
Maybe next week’s rankings should be done by a lottery?
I mentioned La Salle beating VCU above. It has been a while since La Salle was relevant in college basketball; they have had two winning seasons in the last 18 years. Back in 1989-90, the Explorers had a 30-2 record; but things have not been so bright since then. This year, La Salle appears to be an opponent that one overlooks at one’s peril. La Salle’s record is 14-5 and they have wins over Villanova [see above] and Butler [who beat Indiana earlier this year].
Switching gears, one of the things that seems apparent during this winter’s Hot Stove League, is that MLB teams are trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold – except for the Dodgers. Even the Yankees seem to have targeted their payroll to get under that threshold soon if not this year. Now, with the report that Alex Rodriguez may have been involved with someone in South Florida who was dispensing PEDs and coming up with ways to beat the MLB testing regimen, some folks may jump to the conclusion that all the Yankees need to do is to void A-Rod’s contract and then they would be under the limit and have a bit of money to spend. That sounds easy…
I have a friend who is an attorney, who once dabbled in representation of sports folks, and I asked him about the likelihood of the Yankees doing that. Here are the salient portions of his response to me:
“[The Yankees] would need a court to void the contract because the CBA forbids [the Yankees doing it] … Punishments for violating the drug policy and failing drug tests can only come from MLB itself meaning Bud Selig’s office. Individual clubs cannot take adverse actions with regard to PEDs and if the Yankees tried to void this contract, the union would easily argue that was an ‘adverse action’.”
I was unaware of that provision of the current CBA. What this situation seems to highlight is the danger associated with ten-year contracts for players who are around 30-years old. Owners mocked crazy old Charlie Finley back when free agency first began and Finley suggested that no team ever sign a player for more than 1 year thereby making every player a free agent every year. He suggested it as a way to increase the supply of free agents and with increased supply would come cost control. I am sure Finley never contemplated the idea of a 10-year contract worth something north of $270M…
The cynic in me wonders if the owners’ new intention to stay under the luxury tax line is motivated in any way by a desire to stop putting money in the pockets of folks like Jeffrey Loria in Miami. Are the big market teams just plain tired of shipping millions of dollars per year to guys who use that money to show a profit on their baseball ventures? Just asking…
Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald hopefully wrote the final words on the Saints Bountygate business with this observation:
“A judge dismissed the Bountygate suit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell brought by the Saints’ Jonathan Vilma. Goodell celebrated excessively and fined himself.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………